Dec. 09, 2005
'Hoodwinked' success illustrates indie trend
By Gregg Goldstein The Hollywood Reporter
New York -- Powerhouse computer-generated imagery houses like Pixar Animation Studios dominate the animated genre, but less expensive technology and outsourcing to low-cost foreign animators is opening the door for indies to acquire, produce and place CGI-animated films in theaters themselves.
Lions Gate, for example, will release Threshold Entertainment's $50 million-$60 million CGI adventure "Foodfight!" in fall 2006, and it recently announced a three-film co-production/co-financing pact with RichCrest Animation that includes the CGI fantasy "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble." And IDT Entertainment has pacted with 20th Century Fox for four CGI films in the $30 million-$40 million range over the next two years.
"Hoodwinked" stands out among the new wave of CGI-animated indies. The Weinstein Co. has scheduled a Jan. 13 wide release of Cory Edwards' irreverent, witty and musical take on the Little Red Riding Hood story retold as a comic police investigation. The movie also is eligible for this year's best animated film Oscar.
Just how this fairy tale arrived in theaters illustrates the changing animation scene. Edwards, who has made animated shorts as well as the 45-minute Christmas-themed DVD "Wobots," met Skyy Vodka founder and wealthy inventor Maurice Kanbar in 1999 at Sundance, where the director's brother Todd Edwards was showing his live-action comedy "Chillicothe." A year later, the two Edwards brothers (founding partners in Blue Yonder Films with "Hoodwinked" producer Preston Stutzman) pitched Kanbar on several projects the financier felt were too risky. Instead, Kanbar asked them to bring him a fairy tale with broad appeal, saying, "I know they've got legs."
Although Kanbar first envisioned either a DVD or a limited 150-screen theatrical release, the project grew -- along with his initial $5 million investment -- after he read the script, a "Rashomon"-style mystery take on the fairy tale that includes nine musical numbers written by Todd Edwards, who co-directed and co-wrote the script with Tony Leech.
Kanbar, who has since established Kanbar Prods. with Walt Disney Feature Animation vet Sue Montgomery ("Lilo & Stitch"), says he invested $35 million (including prints and advertising) in the film, budgeted in the $15 million-$20 million range. The secret to keeping costs low, Edwards says, was bringing in producer David K. Lundgren, who had ties to animators in the Philippines.
"The cost of living and salaries is about a third what it is here," says Edwards, who made 15 long trips to the country during the film's 2 1/2-year production. The final animation phase moved to India in order to polish the work-in-progress for this year's Festival de Cannes.
After several studios passed, unsure how to market the movie's adult humor, the still-developing Weinstein Co. took notice and in May acquired theatrical and video rights to North America, the U.K., Germany and other international markets.
The Weinstein Co. brought Anne Hathaway and Glenn Close on board to voice Red and Granny, respectively, joining original cast voices Patrick Warburton, David Odgen Stiers and Andy Dick. A sequel already is in the planning stages, with Weinstein Co. and Kanbar co-financing.
Indie animation is nothing new, of course; Ralph Bakshi's landmark X-rated "Fritz the Cat" was a huge hit in 1972. And Edwards is fully aware his film is, like Bakshi's early efforts, a bit rough around the edges. But with technology advancing and costs lowering, "Hoodwinked" could be a bellwether of homemade CGI-animated films to come.